To give peace a chance

Published : Aug 19, 2000 00:00 IST

The collapse of the ceasefire does not warrant the cynical conclusions that the Home Minister has drawn; New Delhi must persist with the attempts to re-establish a peace and reconciliation process.

WHAT will be wrongly derided as the "16-day wonder" and the brief "honeymoon", is over! The collapse of the Hizbul Mujahideen's unilateral ceasefire undoubtedly represents a major setback to the barely-begun effort at peace and reconciliation in Jammu an d Kashmir. The easiest - and intellectually, the laziest - response to the event is to lapse into the cynical belief that nothing can ever change in Kashmir. The next easiest - but no less lazy, and perhaps even more reprehensible - response is to argue that so long as an India-unfriendly military regime rules in Islamabad, no truce can possibly hold in Kashmir.

Regrettably, the Vajpayee government has chosen the second option and unleashed a tirade against Pakistan. Home Minister L.K. Advani in particular has reached the definitive conclusion that "the nature, location, context and content of the announcement b y Hizbul leader Syed Salahuddin can leave no doubt in anybody's mind that it is Pakistan which has sabotaged the prospects of peace in the State". The government has cited no persuasive evidence in support. But to Advani, "it is clear that the voice that made the announcement may have been Salahuddin's, but the words came from the ruling establishment in Islamabad, which is the arch-patron for numerous militant groups engaged in state-sponsored cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of India."

It is hard to discern whether this is an ideologically driven general premise about the nature of the Pakistan "establishment", or a factual assertion pertaining to the specifics of the present case. But it is certainly at odds with what is known about t he pressure on Gen. Pervez Musharraf from the United States to make conciliatory gestures towards India. It also does not fit in with the assessment that rather than Islamabad, it is the 15 other militant groups that form the Jehad Council along with the Hizbul, that impelled Syed Salahuddin to stick to his ludicrously unrealistic August 8 deadline for involving Pakistan in tripartite talks. Musharraf, whatever his real intentions, would be loath to seem to be impeding any peace process in Kashmir jus t when he faces severe international isolation - even less on the eve of Vajpayee's visit to Washington in Septe- mber.

New Delhi is thus liable to be seen as pursuing a narrow and parochial anti-Pakistan agenda. It risks losing the significant gains it scored two weeks ago by welcoming the ceasefire and entering into a dialogue with the Hizbul on the rationale of insaniy at (humanity or humaneness) and without nitpicking preconditions. This was an act of unusual, indeed exceptional, wisdom on its part. It is still possible for it to revive the reconciliation process. It is in everybody's interest that a dialogue is resum ed and a ceasefire re-established. This is precisely what the people of Jammu and Kashmir need after a decade of bloodletting and repression.

The Indian government must not give up on peace. Indeed, it needs to go the extra mile to re-start the peace process in good faith. Admittedly, much went wrong with the ceasefire and the dialogue. It was severely under-prepared. There was no agreed agend a. Officially, bureaucrats rather than politicians handled it. And the Hizbul's guerillas could not appreciate political subtleties, for example, of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's attempt to work around rather than within the Constitution. However , the 16-day episode showed the following, for the first time in 11 years:

* Many people of the Valley now see a ray of hope in peace, not in winning a war. The actual conditions on the ground mellowed considerably, albeit briefly.

* A new divide is opening up within the azaadi movement between those with a pan-Islamic, jehadi agenda and those with a political agenda. The first only allows unrelenting war. The second admits of negotiation, reconciliation and accommodation.

* Even the meaning of azaadi (ranging from greater autonomy within a more federal India to full nationhood) is open to discussion. Leaders like Mirwaiz Omar Farooq openly say so.

* There is a far wider political-level consensus on a dialogue with the Hizbul than even on the National Conference's "autonomy" demand. The great symbolic importance of diverse leaders - from Vajpayee, Mulayam Singh and Somnath Chatterjee to Sonia Gandh i - all showing up together in Pahalgam on August 3 should not be lost.

* Even the more hysterical elements in the Sangh Parivar did not condemn the Hizbul-government dialogue outright. Mainstream Hindutva commentators soft-pedalled their attack. Much of the criticism came after August 8.

* There was popular appreciation of the suspension and substantial downgrading of offensive operations by the Indian forces in response to the Hizbul's unilateral ceasefire. For the first time ever, Army and Hizbul personnel even played a cricket match i n Kupwara district.

Some of these developments were of course symbolic. But symbols do matter. The Lahore bus too is a symbol of sorts. But it would be a big setback if it were to stop plying. Symbols of peace and reconciliation at least got a chance in Kashmir to replace s ymbols of war and confrontation, if only for a short while. If this could be done again, it could potentially reduce violence and produce the aman (peace) the people crave for. The time is surely ripe for a de facto ceasefire to be put into practice. If the government keeps the dialogue going, even at an informal level, it can regain the initiative that the Hizbul lost through its political immaturity and insistence on Pakistan's involvement in the talks at this early stage.

The Hizbul's ceasefire did not come out of the blue. It was prepared through Track-II level contacts over six months, especially between Hurriyat leaders, militant groups, Vajpayee-appointed mediators like R.K. Mishra and M.K. Rasgotra, United States-bas ed Kashmiris like Farooq Kathwari, Ghulam Nabi Fai, Ayoob Thakur and Mansoor Ejaz, as well as Indian and Pakistani officials. By all indications, the U.S. played a crucial, if quiet, role in nudging all concerned towards a dialogue. Pakistan too appears to have had a hand. The statements of its officials and Jamaat-i-Islami chief Qazi Husain Ahmed - especially after mid-July when he met senior State department officials, including Karl Inderfurth and Michael Sheehan in the U.S. - all suggest this. Islam abad's moves may have been determined less by a change of heart than by the hard-nosed calculation to appear "reasonable" and overcome the Kargil stigma.

New Delhi too probably reckoned that a "soft" and "reasonable" posture would help Vajpayee during his Washington visit. Even if talks with Hizbul fail, it could claim it at least tried. If they succeed, that would be a bonus. The Vajpayee government clea rly lacks a well-conceived, leave alone principled, game plan or strategy for Jammu and Kashmir. But it has explored multi-pronged approaches, including talking to militant groups and the Hurriyat, making "informal" proposals to "external" interlocutors and "internal" actors like the N. C. It has stepped beyond the National Democratic Alliance's limited declared agenda. Or else, a number of Track-II manoeuvres would not have been possible.

As for the Hizb, its ceasefire move was probably impelled less by military pressure from the Indian security forces than the palpable popular exhaustion with violence in the Valley, as well as some external goading, especially from U.S.-based Kashmiris. The fact is that it did respond to the ground reality of disenchantment with violence - itself a positive sign. The Hurriyat, despite public statements, was also not fiercely opposed to the ceasefire, although it was piqued at being bypassed. That too re flects moderation and a positive shift.

All these may have been power-driven or cynical calculations, but they did create a thaw. If this can be sustained, it can loosen the 11 year-long Kashmir gridlock. A welcome result of the whole effort is the de-linking of the Kashmir militancy from the Inter-Services Intelligence label, at least at the practical level. By treating the Hizb as an indigenous group worthy of engagement, New Delhi has acknowledged this and deconstructed the post-1989 official myth aimed at reducing the entire Kashmir probl em to an outgrowth or adjunct of Pakistan's anti-India manoeuvres - a mere creation of Islamabad.

This should make it easier for New Delhi to deal with Kashmir on its own terms without conflating it with Indian nationhood, "honour", and pride in combating Pakistan's "proxy war". There is indeed deplorable Pakistani support for militant groups, but it must be fought on a different terrain. Contrariwise, for some militants and many sympathisers too, New Delhi is no longer untouchable. Talking to it is not proof of a "sell-out" which brings popular opprobrium.

ALL said and done, the beginning of talks between balaclava-ed guerillas and Indian officials, albeit aborted, has been no mean gain. To build upon it, New Delhi must adopt a conciliatory stand and Islamabad must show sincerity and maturity by welcoming a dialogue. It would be premature to demand Pakistan's participation at this stage. The Vajpayee government, burdened with its own ideology, is not ready for it yet. Vajpayee himself is not only bitter about the Kargil "betrayal", but often slips into th e viscerally communal anti-Pakistan stance typical of the BJP-RSS to which he belongs. For instance, in an August 5 speech to mark the birth centenary of Brajesh Mishra's pro-RSS father D.P. Mishra, he approvingly quoted a passage saying India has "inher ent" problems with Pakistan because that state was founded on "fear and suspicion" alone. His government's dogged refusal to talk to the Musharraf government, and its persistent effort at cornering and isolating it, speaks of the same mindset.

A change in such attitudes can only come about gradually. But the government must continue with its multi-pronged approach. This will involve some fancy footwork: talking "autonomy" within the Constitution, and pursuing more open-ended strategies with ot hers. This may not be a bad thing so long as New Delhi opens up the dialogue to all currents of Kashmiri opinion. What matters today is less the immediate product and more the process, which is likely to be prolonged and messy. However, one absolute prec ondition for the success of the process is that the government must not be seen as playing a divide-and-rule game, or to be trying to split Hizbul (which it is under pressure from some agencies to do).

Those who stand for a peaceful and just solution to the Kashmir problem should, of course, continue to press for a bilateral dialogue between the two governments. But the situation is not yet conducive to tripartite talks on Kashmir without the first pro cess being launched in good faith and allowed to play its role.

Good faith is absolutely indispensable today. New Delhi must demonstrate it in three ways. First, it must recognise that the roots of the sui generis Kashmir problem lie in a messy process of decolonisation and partition, enormously complicated over 53 y ears, not least by its repeated betrayal of its own constitutional and political promises. Pakistan has cynically exploited the resultant popular alienation. But the onus is on New Delhi too to reverse some of the damage. As part of its pluralist and sec ular-democratic agenda, India must accommodate a generous federalism. That is precisely why the State Autonomy Commission's report needs to be seriously debated.

Second, it is morally and politically imperative for the Indian security forces to reduce their offensive operations and respect human rights which they brazenly and routinely violate. Today, about a quarter-million troops confront less than five million civilians in Kashmir. This is the principal root-cause of popular alienation today.

And third, the government must acknowledge that the entire strategy of doing devious deals based on divide-and-rule and "buying peace" a la Nagaland now stands discredited. It should not delude itself that lasting peace and reconciliation can be achieved through bribery and co-optation. It must stop toying with the idea of the State's trifurcation, which the Sangh Parivar favours. It would be disastrous if it plays its Kashmiri interlocutors against one another or conducts a dialogue only to appear reas onable without meaning to be so.

This is no time for Machiavellian manouevres. Rather, it is time for reconciliation and peace; for statesmanship, and conscientious action; and above all, for truthfulness and wisdom.

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